By Bri Jaskot
I first heard of Run to the Sun, back in 2011, when I was in college, at the University of Hawaii, on O’ahu. My co-worker at Starbucks told me about it and then proceeded to tell me that he had won the race a couple of years in a row. At the time, all I knew about the race, was that it was a long run on Maui that ran to the top of a Volcano.
For the purpose of this report, let’s get a little more exact- Run to the Sun, is a sea to summit effort that ends at the top of Haleakalā, Maui’s high point, which translates to “House of the Sun”. 37ish miles, with 10,000ish feet of climbing in one single, mostly gradual road climb, with only a teensy half mile descent. Sounds “fun”, right?
Now, jump forward 7 years, to November of 2018. My husband and I were living in Ashland, Oregon and had booked a trip to Maui. At the time, I was just starting to get into 50ks and mountain marathons and remembered this run on Maui, called Run to the Sun. Naturally, the best way to scheme up some suffering is to do so while comfortable, sitting on the couch, preferably with a glass of wine in hand. So that’s what I did. I cracked open my laptop and started googling “run to the sun, maui”; the Maui part is key or you get nothing.
In my beta googling- I came across an old Maui Times article from 2006 that highlighted the history of the race. It turns out, the race never started out as a race at all. It was simply a personal challenge thought up between two teachers and a former student, back in 1977, to “see if they could run to the top of the mountain” from the beach. And that they did, in less than 7 hours, they ran from the shores of Kanahā beach to the summit of Haleakalā; 37 miles and 10,023 ft up from where they had started.
That one page Maui times article was all I needed to read to want to give Run to the Sun a go. I told my husband, he wasn’t initially thrilled and asked why we always need to turn vacations into sufferfests and why can’t we just relax and enjoy the island…. 5 minutes later, after reading him the article, he had gone from Mr. “I just want to relax” to “well maybe I could crew you Tuesday and then we could have a rest a day and then you could crew me on Thursday…”
The next 24 hours were spent throwing together a plan. I wanted to do the OG route that the three guys did in 1977 (Kanahā beach to Haleakalā). The old official race route, started about 1.5 miles inland in the Maui Mall parking lot near an Ihop restaurant.
On this trip, we were staying on the East side of Maui in Hana, which meant there was a famously winding, beautiful, scenic, two hour drive, between our airbnb and Kanahā beach. I wanted to start the run early, like 2 am early, mainly to beat the Hawaiian heat. But with that early of start, we decided it would be a good idea to drive to Kahului for dinner the night before, buy pillows at Walmart and try to crash in the car for a couple of hours. We got maybe a cumulative 30 minutes of sleep between the two of us. It turns out sleeping in your car is illegal on the islands, something I didn’t think to Google until we were tucked in a dark corner of the Walmart parking lot and saw a security guard roaming the stalls.
So with basically zero sleep, we walked out onto the shores of Kanahā beach, I dipped the toe of my shoe in the water and started running towards Haleakalā.
Route wise- we simply pulled up Google Maps and ended up running the highway; it was so early that there were hardly any cars on the road, which was great for Michael to be able to pull off and swap my bottles and give me food. I did run into a wild boar about 6 miles in, but thankfully he was more scared of me. By the time I got up into the windy, STEEP, neighborhood roads, my legs were starting to feel it. And that is only about 13 miles and 3,000 feet in. My right hip flexor was starting to talk a little bit and I was reduced to mostly walking. It was now about 4 a.m. and A LOT of cars were starting to make their way up towards the entrance of the park for sunrise. There is one time of the day that you need a permit to enter Haleakalā National Park and that is between 4-7 am for sunrise. I wasn’t planning on making it to the park entrance before 7 am anyways so we didn’t worry about that.
To keep this report moving along- I failed. I didn’t make it to the top of Haleakalā. When the race was still going on, there was a strict 10 hour cut off and with me mostly hiking due to my hip flexor, I wasn’t going make it. So, at mile 32 (I know) I pulled the plug. My thought process- I wasn’t ready. This was going to be my longest run to date, I simply wasn’t prepared, nor ready for this long of an uphill run and I wanted to be able to do it under the cut off. I was more bummed about my hip flexor than not finishing because in my mind, I would come back and try again. My poor husband realized this too when I decided to stop, and he tried hard to convince me to keep going, because he believed that I could and maybe a little because he didn’t want to drive up the mountain that slow again. I mean a 37 mile drive in 10 hours is pretty slow in a vehicle.
Now, fast forward to 2021. I had a disappointing end to my race season with a DNF at Speedgoat, 50k. So I took several weeks off, doing some biking, hiking, running a little, to get my body back to good and more importantly my stoke high again. Then one night, Michael and I were lying in bed and I decided to look up flights to Hawaii. His mind was on Big Island and mine went instantly to Maui and a second attempt at Run to the Sun. How perfect- I had a forced off season, now lets go to Maui and try this run again.
We wised up this time and didn’t stay two hours away from the start. I also decided against a morning start because of the sunrise traffic and instead started at 11:45 am. My thought- I’m not a morning runner and this is a personal challenge effort that allows me to pick the start time, so I got a great night of sleep, had a good sized breakfast and toed the shores of Kanahā beach just before noon on Saturday, November 6th. It was 90 and humid as fuck. But we planned for that and had sandwich baggies for Michael to fill with ice for me to stuff in my sports bra. My thinking- yeah, it will be hot for a few hours, but at least I’m well rested and fed for the day ahead, and as I ascend the paved roads leading up the mountain, it’s only going to get cooler.
The first hiccup to the day- I got lost in the first mile and somehow ended up bushwhacking through some thick shrubbery on an all road route. Once back on track, and on Pulehu road the hot, hot, fire heat miles ticked by. The first 10 miles has a mere 1,300 feet of climbing and one is rewarded with views of trash swirling atop Maui’s landfill. Even paradise has too much trash.
Michael was once again heading up the mountain at a snails pace for any vehicle, but making a point to reconnect with me every 30 minutes to swap bottles and ice baggies. I switched between Superfuel and Skratch initially, for 280 calories an hour and a liter of fluid per hour.
My plan going in was to maintain a sustainable effort and hike early. Aside from a couple of steep punchy hills in the neighborhoods midway up the mountain, the grade is 6-10% the entire 37 miles. Which honestly sucked because every time I hiked I just felt like I should be running, but it only takes a few hours of that grade for it to get very tiring and for hiking to feel warranted.
Of course things I’ve never experienced before, popped up on the run- I kept feeling like something was digging into my right big toe. I was breaking the number one rule of running shoes and racing, by wearing the Endorphin Speed for the very first time that day, and figured that was the problem. At mile 13 I changed socks and lied to Michael that I was feeling awesome, where in actuality my legs were already starting to feel the climbing. We had done a 20 mile walk around Lanai 4 days before and in that moment all I could think about was how dumb that was for leg freshness.
That Hawaiian heat I mentioned earlier was a thing for the first 3.5 hours. Around 20 miles in and 5k feet up, the slight wind, combined with drenched clothes from all the melting ice, actually had me feeling very cold. So I had another first- I completely changed my outfit in the middle of the run.
5 hours into the effort the number of cars heading up the mountain for sunset got ridiculous. By the time we got to the park entrance at mile 26 there were at least a 20 car line ahead of us. At first I was bummed to have to stop and wait, but decided to capitalize on the downtime and drank an extra half liter of Skratch, had a banana, another Spring Awesome Sauce gel and switched my socks for the second time. 15 minutes later we had made it into the park and I felt freaking awesome and ready to get the last 11 miles done. One of the goals of the day that I had for myself was to be able to run a solid effort the last ten miles. My legs felt completely trashed, but for whatever reason, I was able to keep running at a good effort, so I just kept moving. My right big toe on the other hand was in and out of inexplicable excruciating pain.
It got increasingly colder as I neared the summit, but was treated to a gorgeous sunset. As the sun dipped, hundreds of cars started driving down the mountain. I love running in the dark with only a small circle of visibility from my headlamp in front me, so it was nice to finish in the dark, not being able to see how much further I had to climb. Michael drove to the summit to park the car and ran down to run with me up the final half mile. Of course- the summit doesn’t end in the parking lot, it climbs some steep ass stone steps and I cursed my way up them before lying on the ground so happy to be done. 7 hours, 32 minutes was my time, which I’m incredibly happy about because I got to the point I stopped in 2018 2.5 hours faster and it always feels good to crush your former self.
I’m lucky to have a husband who will take an entire day of his Hawaiian vacay to drive slowly up a mountain to give me food, water, and loving words of encouragement. 😃
Last I read- Valley Isle Road Runners are working on getting Haleakalā National Park to once again approve a permit for Run to the Sun to officially take place again. But until then- if any of y’all want to run to the top of Maui’s high point, from the beach, you gotta do it on your own.